Laundry Detergent Pods Poisoning Children

September 6, 2012 — Experts are warning parents that several children have been seriously injured when they swallowed laundry detergent packs (such as Tide Pods), mistaking the colorful, soft, sweet-smelling products for candy. Unfortunately, the products contain a highly-alkaline detergent that can cause severe chemical burns, poisoning, inflammation, and swelling of the child’s airway. Some children who have been injured have required emergency intubation and surgery to open their airway.


Researchers from Glasgow, Scotland are calling on parents to keep the products away from children at all times. They are also asking manufacturers to change the design of the products with enhanced child safety lids and more prominent safety warnings.

In a letter published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr. Lyndsay Fraser said, “The color and texture is very, very appealing to children.” She also said her hospital has seen an increasing number of children who have been injured by the single-use laundry detergent packs over the last 18 months. She described the cases of five children between 10-22 months of age. Four of the children had to be intubated because their airway was constricted by swelling. One child required emergency surgery.

Dr. Fraser said, “In addition to the catastrophic impact on the child and family, these wholly preventable injuries also lead to a significant drain on pediatric intensive care resources. To help prevent future potentially life-threatening injuries, improved safety warnings and childproof packaging are urgently required.”

There have been thousands of incidents of children sucking, swallowing, or getting the products in their eyes. The National Poisons Information Service in the United Kingdom reported 647 calls from parents of children who were exposed to the products. This is more than double the number of calls from five years ago.

In the U.S., the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) has reported 2,166 incidents related to the single-use detergent packs. The agency has also published warnings, attempting to increase public awareness of the issue — but poisonings continue to occur.

Laundry detergent is a highly alkaline substance that can cause severe chemical burns and injuries when it is swallowed or contacts the eyes. When swallowed, the chemicals can cause tissue damage to the larynx and esophagus. This irritates the mucosal lining of the esophagus and causes rapid swelling, which can cut off the child’s airway. Treatment may involve intubation, which is very painful and traumatic for a child. If the doctor is unable to get a tube into the child’s throat, surgery may be necessary to open the airway. Swallowing a laundry detergent packet could be life-threatening, especially if the child suffocates before reaching care, or if the esophagus is perforated.

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